For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Therefore we are comforted.| 2 Corinthians 7:10-13
In the sermon on Sunday, we talked about the fact that not all people who ask for forgiveness are asking for the same thing. This was in reference to Saul showing remorse to David for continually trying to kill him, only to pick that hobby back up a few chapters later. We wonder how/why he could go back to this so quickly.
Paul helps us out in 2 Corinthians 7, by giving us two categories of grief. This is in reference to the letter of 1 Corinthians, where he verbally berates the church of Corinth for all manner of sin, only to have them reply to him that his comments hurt their feelings (we don’t have this letter, but can guess to some of its content based on Paul’s response). He justifies his letter, as well as their grief, by pointing to the positive side of grief: it leads to salvation without regret! In this description, he also makes it clear that their is an unhealthy (or incomplete) form of grief. He contrasts these two so that we can both pursue the better, but also so that we navigate a world filled with the lesser.
The two terms that he uses are: worldly grief and godly grief. I want to present a side-by-side comparison of the two so that we may know how to distinguish between them, both in ourselves, and in others:
Worldly grief is concerned with worldly affects of sin.
Godly grief is concerned, primarily, with offending God.
Worldly grief comes from experiencing the consequences of sin.
Godly grief comes the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Worldly grief regrets past sins.
Godly grief turns away from sin.
Worldly grief wants to get past grief.
Godly grief recognizes that grief is part of the human condition.
Worldly grief causes you to identify with your sin.
Godly grief causes you to turn to Jesus as the only hope for your sin.
Worldly grief is paralyzing.
Godly grief forces action.
Worldly grief causes immediate change.
Godly grief produces long term sanctification.
Worldly grief brings sorrow, fear, and shame.
Godly grief leads to joy in Christ.
We do not know the state of another person’s heart, so we cannot assume immediately whether their grief is worldly or godly (and worldly grief can lead to godly grief!). What we can do is bear with people to see the outworking of their grief. At times, this means putting up healthy boundaries in relationship; other times it means being willing to be hurt for the sake of hope. A faithful imagination understands what God can do and trusts that He is at work. While we don’t get to direct His steps, we should make every effort to give Him space to work. In the realm of grief that means both engaging with our own grief in a healthy way, as well as helping others to grieve well.